Two Questions

I am in the middle of reading A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle, and here is a passage that struck me. Hard. Even though the whole book has been doing that. But anyway. Here it is.

There have been a number of times during the past years when one of my “children” has come into the library, puttered around the bookshelves until we were alone, and then sat by my desk to talk about love: should I sleep with him? does he love me? is this girl just having me on? what do you really think about marriage? every boy you go out with expects you to make out, all the way; the girls want anything they can get out of you, but I think this one is different; how do you know if you’re pregnant? my parents don’t like her, they think she’s a tramp, but she isn’t, and I love her.

They really don’t want me to answer their questions, nor should I. If I have not already answered them ontologically, nothing I say is going to make any sense. Where I can be of use is in being willing to listen while they spread their problem out between us; they can then see it themselves in better perspective.

But over the years two questions of mine have evolved which make sense to me.

I ask the boy or girl how work is going: Are you functioning at a better level than usual? Do you find that you are getting more work done in less time? If you are, then I think that you can trust this love. If you find that you can’t work well, that you’re functioning under par, then I think something may be wrong.

A lovely example of this is Josephine [the author’s daughter]: the spring she and Alan were engaged, when she was eighteen and a sophomore at Smith, they found out that they could not possibly be apart more than two weeks at a time; either Alan would go up to Northampton, or Josephine would come down to New York. She knew that she would be getting married ten days after the close of college. And her grades went steadily up.

The other question I ask my “children” is: what about your relations with the rest of the world? It’s all right in the very beginning for you to be the only two people in the world, but after that your ability to love should become greater and greater. If you find that you love lots more people than before, then I think that you can trust this love. If you find that you need to be exclusive, that you don’t like being around other people, then I think that something may be wrong.

This doesn’t mean that two people who love each other don’t need time alone. Two people in the first glory of new love must have great waves of time in which to discover each other. But there is a kind of exclusiveness in some loves, a kind of inturning, which augurs trouble to come.

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